Rage Driven Development

Sunday, April 4, 2021 by Louie Bacaj

I have observed that some people are fueled by something different than the rest of us. These people can attack a problem no matter how large, how much bureaucracy or mess is in the way; in fact, for them, the more, the better. These people all have one thing in common: they are consistently motivated by something the majority of us rarely feel, rage.

However, many can't control or direct that rage, and by God, the collateral damage is immense when they cannot channel it.

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
-George Bernard Shaw

Fueled by rage

Let me tell you a story of an engineer; let's call him Jimmy. When I hired Jimmy, he was happy in the team and delivering at a steady clip. Within a few months, many deficiencies started becoming evident to Jimmy. He took it upon himself to begin fixing those up, which at first we thought was great.

Eventually, he was outraged with the slow progress of some of our partner teams; he started doing some of their work. This encroaching on other teams' work and exposition of their flaws led to many arguments. They asked Jimmy to back off and let them build. At this point, most reasonable people would stop but not Jimmy. He was driven by rage.

Within a few weeks, he would work nights and weekends and deliver systems and libraries meant to be built by at least two other teams. Jimmy's work benefited our team immensely but at the same time had the terrible side effect of getting our partner teams to hate us. I was told by another team to "control my pitbull" as if Jimmy could be controlled. The idea of the other team being incompetent fueled Jimmy's rage even further, leading him to do even more great work.

Within a few months, his rage at incompetence had spilled like acid out of a vial and led him to anger not only other teams but even our teammates.

Jimmy could build anything, he would do it faster than almost anyone else too, and it was quality which is a scarce set of traits in any software engineer. But he was also creating an incredibly toxic environment. That made it, so no one wanted to collaborate with him. No matter how hard we tried to help Jimmy eliminate the side effect and focus the energy, we could not do it.

Practitioners of Rage Driven Development fueled by rage, or outrage, can't always control their actions' side effects.

Are people like Jimmy the only ones that are fueled by rage? Can rage fuel anyone? I'm not sure about this, but I have seen some patterns. People fueled by rage tend to be perfectionists, have little to no tolerance for incompetence, and an immense hatred of slow-moving bureaucracies of any kind.

Rage slices through bureaucracy

We all get a little angry when we run into a bureaucratic wall that prevents us from doing what we need to get done. Most of us will usually persist long enough to solve our problem and move on. However, Rage Driven Development practitioners will not just last long enough to solve their problem; they will persist long enough to burn down bureaucratic walls.

Nothing drives up the rage in Rage Driven Developers like an incompetent bureaucracy. Usually, any sufficiently large corporation will have some bureaucracy level that is slowing things down and preventing progress.

Few people have the motivation to bang their heads against a bureaucratic wall like the people driven by rage. The more trip-ups they run into, the greater their battery is charged, and the larger their motivation to fix the problem burn down the bureaucracy becomes.

I have seen that if rage is appropriately channeled, the outcome can be excellent, and the amount of leverage that can be had for everyone is big. When a bureaucratic wall is burned down, and everyone is allowed to move faster, everyone wins.

Another engineer I work with managed to solve what seemed like an unsolvable problem that others had tried and failed at before. He, too, was driven by rage. Early on, he displayed many of the same characteristics as Jimmy, but he managed to channel his rage at the exact problem and controlled the spillover.

Careful with rage

We have to be careful because anyone driven by rage that displays the qualities I mentioned above can come off as unreasonable.

However, unreasonable isn't always bad, and harnessing rage isn't always bad either. In the book Originals by Adam Grant, we learn that much of the world's progress happens thanks to stubborn, unreasonable people driven by something that does not necessarily drive the rest of us.

There is a fine line between being eccentric, a genius misfit, and a jerk.

In Originals, Adam Grant advocates that we need much higher tolerances for misfits and eccentrics. The book also points to a study by management researchers Jeff Lapine and Lin Vandyme, which says that "agreeable people with their desire to please others and maintain harmony makes them prone to backing down instead of sticking up for us or fighting for what's right." Also, they found that "agreeable people value cooperation and conform to norms they should not be inclined to make waves and upset interpersonal relationships."

It's impossible to break down bureaucratic walls if you don't want to rock a few boats. It's also hard to break them down if you don't have the motivation, the fuel needed to sustain you through the battle.